Irregardless of Merriam-Webster

MW’s inclusion of irregardless spawned not only a cartoon in the UK Guardian newspaper, but a response from 327 members of the the general public!

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Data from copy-editors and proofreaders

Are you a copy-editor or a proofreader of English texts? We are interested in what you think! If you can spare a bit of your time, you will help researchers at Leiden University learn more about editing practices by filling in this survey

By entering your email at the end you could be randomly selected as one of the two winners to receive a $25 gift card from Amazon!

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On their way home

Many thanks for letting them stay with us, Kate! It was good to be able to hold them (and to see how small some of them are!).

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Lowth in the Economist

It doesn’t happen very often that Lowth (or indeed myself!) gets a mention in The Economist! Thanks, Alison, for letting us know.

(Can anyone help me find the author of the piece? I’d like to tell him/her about my new book on prescriptivism …)

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We need your input! Publications and courses on prescriptivism

We are currently compiling a list of available monographs—such as Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade and Carol Percy’s 2017 Prescription and Tradition: Establishing Standards across Time and Space—and university courses that focus on linguistic prescriptivism (in English, but also in other languages). For that we need your help. Please leave us a comment below if you are aware of any publications or universities that offer courses on prescriptivism! We’d much appreciate it!

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Just out!

Out today, and open access: Of greengrocers, sports commentators, estate agents and television presenters: who’s in a usage guide and why, published in Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development.

With thanks to Olivia Walsh for organising the symposium In the Shadow of  the Standard in Nottingham, in September 2018.

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Laziness has won!

Another piece from the UK Guardian on how the Apostrophe Protection Society has finally given up the unequal struggle!

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Literally out today

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Queen of Jetlags

Never thought I’d ever read anything by an influencer (a word not yet in the OED, but a very popular type of online presence these days): Noor de Groot’s Queen of Jetlags (2019). It is not that the book is written by the daughter of an old school friend of mine, but because I was curious to find out why an influencer with 720k followers on Instagram would want to publish a book.

The book is (mostly) in Dutch, and describes Noor’s life and highly succesful career in what would seem to be full authentic (another key word these days) detail, beautifully illustrated with pictures evoking the dreamy atmosphere that is her trademark.

As a phenomenon, Queen of Jetlags reminds me of  Grammar Girl, a language advice website with a phenomenal following, too. And yet, Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl’s author, published a book with language advice as well. Books, it seems, apparently deserve a life of their own besides their contents’ presence online .

Another similarity between the two which I find fascinating is how Noor de Groot outlines in full detail how she became an influencer, showing all the tricks and trades of the job as she goes along. A short while ago, Mignon Fogarty obtained a chair in Media Entrepreneurship at the Reynolds School of Journalism of the University of Nevada, thus – presumably – teaching her students the ins and outs of her job as well. Competition does not seem to be an issue here, for either of them. What Noor’s book shows, after all, is that being an influencer, or rather becoming one and making sure that you stay top of the bill, is a professon in its own right. And, I must admit, I admire her for that.

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The Grammarians – by Cathleen Schine


If you’re interested in prescriptivism, you might well want to read this recently published novel. It’s about twins who gradually grow apart, with the one thing binding them to the end being an old copy of a dictionary, probably  by Samuel Johnson, though they can only have it each to themselves 6 months at a time.

While the one twin turns into a poet, the other becomes a copy editor, whose focus is linguistic correctness: they couldn’t be further apart in the linguistic interests they develop over the years. There is a lot there for readers interested in prescriptivism: Fowler is referred to several times (though I wouldn’t have called Fowler’s Modern English Usage “an old grammar book”, p. 194: usage guides are not grammars), and many usage problems fly by, like the dangling participle, the split infinitive, the placement of only, the use of who/whom, and singular they – stuff we, linguists, don’t expect to find playing such a major role in a novel but love reading about.

What I don’t understand about the novel though is the role played in it by Johnson’s dictionary, who is quoted at the start of every chapter. The girls, in their early youth, had a fascination with words, and even developed their own secret language. They’re finally given a copy of a dictionary by their father, leaving it jointly to them after his death. By then, the twins are no longer on speaking terms and they have to find a way out for this. But Johnson was neither a grammarican nor a prescriptive handbook writer like Fowler, whose views on language do play more of a role in the novel. Perhaps my real (and actually only) problem with the book is its title: grammarians is what neither of the girls are.  Would The Poet and the Prescriptivist have been a better title? Even then, Johnson’s dictionary hardly seems to fit in.

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